How Does Generation Y Perceive Your Green Initiative?


Kermit the Frog

It's not easy being green, but Generation Y demands that you get there. (Source: Muppet Wikia)

To be successful in any industry, you need to know what’s trending. Clothing stores have to show the hottest styles. Car manufacturers gauge what’s driving their drivers. Hollywood even caters to the caprices of its critics. But a powerful trend is now influencing every industry.

In fact, it’s more than a trend. It’s a movement: going green.

Companies of every shape, in every size, and in every industry are launching green campaigns. What’s motivating them to take the “leap of green?” Do they really love the planet that much? Are they politically driven? Or are they trying to appeal to a certain generation?

Previously, we’ve discussed the heavy impact the upcoming generation – Generation Y – will have on your business. To effectively draw them in, you need to know what matters to them. In “Ad industry responds to Generation Y demands to go green,” Liz Nottingham, HR director of Starcom MediaVest Group, supports the notion that green matters greatly to many members of Gen Y:

“Generation Y has grown up in an age where climate change has become a fundamental issue that has a big impact on their lives, now and in the future. They are looking to employers to show that they are addressing their concerns over pollution, waste, energy and so on. Advertisers have built their successes on responding to trends and the demands of consumers; they also have to respond to the demands of their employees to stay competitive and retain the best staff. Going green matters.”

Going Green Matters to Generation Y

Generation Y is a culture of young people who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Promoting a cause is fashionable. Making a difference is important. Why are so many Gen Y members jumping on the green band-wagon? Going green is a tangible banner they can rally beneath, believing they can effect change. Consequently, their efforts and their commerce will be directed toward furthering the cause.

According to USA Today, Gen Y is equipped with more than 200 billion dollars in buying power per year. It’s a potent consumer group that avoids buying anything that will harm the environment. Gen Y spenders are socially responsible and think companies should be, too. And so the corporate decision to go green is spreading like wildfire.

What’s It Gonna Take?

Going green encompasses a broad spectrum of actions. On one end of the spectrum, you can go green by simply recycling aluminum cans, conserving electricity, or implementing low cost ways to make your rentals green. The other end of the spectrum can entail a more complex shift—for example, embracing electric vehicles by installing charging stations on your properties or replacing entire business processes.

A 2008 survey of more than 2,100 college students, conducted by Bentley Marketing Professor Pierre Berthon, revealed that green has even more meanings. “To Gen Y being ‘green’ amounts to an ethical imperative towards people, animals and the planet,” he stated. There are an abundance of ways to “go green.” Nevertheless, your green campaign could be in vain. It depends on how your customers perceive you.

Perception Is Everything

Is it possible that perception carries more weight than reality? Berthon’s survey showed three green stereotypes Generation Y gives companies:

  1. The Good: perceived as green
  2. The Bad: perceived as un-green
  3. The Ugly: split personalities—perceived as green by some and un-green by others

Bentley’s Center for Marketing Technology polled college students to discover what brands Generation Y perceives as greenest. Below are some of the strongest results and the reasons given:

Greenest Brands

1. Toyota (hybrid cars)
2. Honda (fuel efficient cars)
3. Whole Food (organic foods)

Least Green Brands:

1. Exxon Mobil (pollution and profits)
2. Hummer (gas guzzler)
3. Ford (SUVs and trucks)

Surprisingly, some of the brands students thought were the least green were actually more environmentally friendly than those they selected as greenest!

A comparison with data on the environment and social action gathered by KLD Research & Analytics, Inc. highlights the limited relationship between perceptions and action. For example, Gen Y consumers perceive Nike as being less green than Google. Yet according to KLD, Nike is by far the more environmentally proactive company.

You could be the most socially responsible business on the block, but unless customers instantly recognize your efforts, you won’t attract them. It’s all about perception. Thus, when you decide to take the leap of green, promote it! Advertise it! Whether helping humanity, wildlife, or the environment, engage your customers in conversations about your work to make a difference. They will appreciate it because they care.

Let’s not forget that perception without reality is like a false storefront—sooner or later, people will enter the store. Your long-lasting success will depend on how credible your efforts really are and the added value the consumer will receive.

Taking It to the Next Level

Remember: Knowing what’s trending is vital to your company. Are you up with the current movement? Maybe it’s time for you to tackle the next level of success and take the leap of green! Your future renters have.

The Monday Morning Meeting with Joanna Ellis is a monthly series examining the impact of Generation Y on the multifamily industry and discussing how to successfully do business with them.

Part 1: The Future Renter…What’s Next?
Part 2: Three Ways to Grab the Attention of Generation Y
Part 3: Getting to Know Your Generation Y Coworkers


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

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